The TH Interview: Fred Pearce--Confessions of An Eco-Sinner (Part One)

Eco Sinner TreeHugger Interview image.jpg

Ever get curious? "Where was my computer put together, who picked my coffee beans, what about the gold in my wedding ring?" We recall when Fred Pearce set out to find the answers, a journey that took him around the world seven times. Confessions of An Eco-Sinner is his tale; and what he found was often shocking and counterintuitive (get ready to rethink fair trade).
Fred Pearce's detective work has enticed us many times as he sleuths the greening of China, seed saving, the population bomb, and "virtual water." He's especially deft at sniffing out greenwashing, for which he has a column in The Guardian. Fred was kind enough to let us inside his reconnaissance and share how this changed his thinking.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

Thanks to Calabash Music for the soundtrack.TreeHugger: Why "Confessions of an Eco-Sinner"? Are you an eco-sinner? You seem like such a nice chap.

Fred Pearce: I think we all are. That's the point, isn't it? It's not a book that's attempting to rewrite the way we live or to chastise us too much for our ecological sins. But it is an attempt to find out what all of us think about from time to time, which is exactly where does my stuff come from? Exactly what are the environmental consequences of growing, whether it's the coffee in my mug or the cotton in my shirt or whatever it is.

What about the manufacturers in the sweatshops and the computer factories in China? What about the miners digging gold out of the earth in South Africa so that I can have a gold ring? Exactly, where does all these stuff come from? What are the environmental consequences and also, what are the social consequences? I found myself, as I was researching the book, spending a lot of time looking at some of the social issues and reaching some quite surprising conclusions sometimes.

TH: A lot of your detective work is dedicated to tracking down the sources of your food, and you comment at one point, "that when trucks full of British poultry and milk pass identical trucks carrying identical goods going in the opposite direction, then something has gone wrong." You talk about food miles a lot and this is a very hot topic. What did you find in investigating the sources of the food you eat, the coffee you drink?

FP: Well, it is crazy how much food does travel around the world for reasons which are not really very obvious. Here in Europe, which is the example I was looking at really for meat and dairy products, an awful lot of stuff leaves Britain to go to the Netherlands or Germany or France, and equal amounts of the same stuff coming in the other direction for us to eat here in the UK which, no doubt, makes economic sense for somebody somewhere along the line, but it doesn't seem to make much sense in energy terms, or in the kind of logic most of us are using to look at these things.

I've noticed, as I go around the world, almost everywhere I can buy bottles of water which are called "Fiji Water", which are being flown from the South Pacific or not Flown, but no doubt put on a container ship. But what's the sense in that? Water falls out of the sky onto every one of us and yet, we're drinking bottled water shipped in from Fiji. There's a madness going on here.

On the other hand, when you look at some of the social issues, I'm not inclined to think that everything should be produced locally where we can. One of the more interesting trips I did was to go to Kenya in East Africa to talk to the people who grow the green beans that are air freighted to the UK, in particular, in quite large quantities so that we can have fresh beans every time of the year.

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